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Colts owner Jim Irsay infuses faith into team’s leadership

MIAMI (BP)–Linebacker Hunter Smith, like other Indianapolis Colts players prepping for Sunday’s Super Bowl, sees the team’s spiritual leadership as coming from the top. In a Media Day interview, Colts owner Jim Irsay concurred.

“It’s important for me to show humility and humble yourself before God — to let people know that’s where the power comes from,” Irsay said Jan. 30 during his AFC championship team’s media session in Dolphins Stadium, site of Sunday’s NFL title game.

When presented the AFC Championship trophy after the Colts’ come-from-behind win over the New England Patriots Jan. 21, Irsay took the moment to tell a stadium full of Indy fans and a national TV audience, “As the humble leader of this organization, it’s important to give all glory to God.”

Irsay said his public words of testimony stemmed from gratitude for what God had done in helping him overcome a potentially fatal personal crisis.

“I believe in humility and it’s obvious that by God’s grace we are all here,” Irsay told Baptist Press. “We don’t control as much as we think we do; it’s God who controls all things.”

Irsay took over the Colts from his father Robert in 1997 after working with him for 15 years. After playing college football, Jim turned to power lifting and marathons — and became addicted to painkillers.

Struggling to overcome the addiction ultimately deepened his personal faith as he began to realize the necessity of relying on God’s strength, not his own.

“For me, it was a very personal journey. You have to admit you have a problem and seek the right help,” said Irsay, who grew up in a churchgoing household. “Some people may view the use of painkillers as a “weakness,” he said, “but it can be critical and it can kill.”

After battling the addiction for most of the 1990s, he checked himself into a rehab clinic for 30 days in 2002 as a last resort.

The result was a freedom from the pills and a renewed sense of what God meant in his life, his business career and his team ownership.

“It’s the only question we ask ourselves since the existence of time: Who is our creator and what does that mean?” Irsay said.

“The term ‘self-made man’ is one of the most spiritually arrogant terms we can have. I’ve found we are responsible for the effort, God is responsible for the outcome.”

In 2002, Irsay hired Tony Dungy as the Colts’ head coach, which turned out to be another key spiritual decision: Dungy’s active spirituality meshed well with Irsay’s newfound and deepening faith.

“Tony and I have a lot of common, we’ve had some great talks together [about faith] and have supported each other through a lot of different things,” Irsay said.

The owner who battled a drug addiction and the head coach who lost a son to suicide have each prospered at their sport’s highest level through their reliance of faith.

“We are very close,” the owner said of the head coach.

This week, Irsay and Dungy also are close to their shared professional goal of winning a Super Bowl. But to ask either man, their real victory already has come with their faith in Jesus Christ.
Baptist Press sports correspondent Art Stricklin is on site at Super Bowl XLI in Miami, filing daily reports on the spiritual side of the NFL’s championship game.

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  • Art Stricklin